We're not going to quibble about the fact that Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire supposedly earned only $46.8 million while John Travolta's Old Dogs reportedly snagged $48.5 million and George Clooney's Up in the Air pulled down more than $80 million. (All three films are being released on DVD today.)
Obviously box office receipts do not, especially in this case, reflect the quality of storytelling. Precious, the story of an overweight teen who has two children and lives with her maniac of a mother, was well represented at the Oscar awards a few days ago. It was up for Best Picture. Director Lee Daniels was up for Best Director (the award went to Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, the first ever win for a woman in this category) Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who played the much-abused Precious, was nominated as Best Actress in a Leading Role (Texan Sandra Bullock took home the honor for The Blind Side). There were also nominations for Joe Klotz's film editing, Geoffrey Fletcher's adapted screenplay.
But the night's winner was comedian/talk-show host Mo'Nique who took home the Oscar for her raw, gut-wrenching performance as an abusive mother who seemed hell-bent to hurt Precious in every way possible.
Precious is not an easy film to watch. The horrific abuse she endures is shown in excruciating detail. But the rebuilding of her confidence, self-worth and simple sense of hope for something better, is also seen. If you're brave enough for the ride, you'll see one of the best films of the decade.
On the other end of the excellence scale, there's the train wreck Old Dogs, in which Travolta and Robin Williams, who play pals and business partners, get saddled with a pair of seven-year-old twins that supposedly resulted from a night of indiscretion by Williams. (This is a Disney movie, so there was a supposedly quickie marriage followed by an equally quickie divorce.)
The kids' mom is going to jail (Disney spin: she's going to jail for protesting the destruction of the rainforest or something else noble and non-felonious). There's the usual cute kids vs. stupid parents slap-stick in Old Dogs which here involves lots of punches to the groin and jokes about bodily functions. None of it's very funny or well done.
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Clooney doesn't have much to be embarrassed about with Up in the Air. He plays a businessman who zigzags the country firing people, and who has commitment problems (to be fair, he's never in one city long enough to remember the name of his hotel, much less put down roots).
He meets a woman who seems to accept him on his own terms, and after some pushing and shoving by circumstances around him, he decides to take the relationship beyond the ships-passing-in-the-night phase, with unexpected results.
Up in the Air expertly mixes humor with sadness and captures Clooney as a charming, attractive, intelligent man who somehow manages to be lonely in a crushing crowd of people.
So, box office numbers aside, if you willing to go through an emotional wringer and see top-notch performances in a hard-hitting story, pick up Precious. If you want to see, uh, hmm, how can we say this -- a couple of talented actors who somehow got wrangled into the one of the worst performances of their careers in one of the worst movies of the year -- Old Dogs is just the thing for you. And if you want to see a cool charmer in a movie that requires some thinking (not always a bad thing), check out Up in the Air.